It is not often that an NFL team starts a fifth-round pick right out of the gate. For the New York Giants, they did just that with Ryan Connelly in 2019. The Wisconsin product was not the fastest, strongest, or highest rated linebacker coming out of the draft, but he did post elite grades in one specific category.
Despite being average in most facets, Connelly is one of the quickest linebackers to enter the NFL since 2010. According to PFF, he ran the third quickest 10-yard split (1.54 seconds) of any off-ball linebacker that weighed in at 240-plus pounds at the NFL combine since 2010.
In addition to his incredible agility, Connelly predicates his game on an elite burst and diagnosing at the line of scrimmage. He’s incredibly talented at reading plays and shooting gaps with lightning speed, attesting to his short-area quickness. Disrupting the backfield is his ultimate goal, and he fit perfectly in James Bettcher’s defensive scheme.
Connelly suffered an ACL year in week four against the Washington Redskins, which severely limited Bettcher’s efficiency on defense.
The New York Giants should benefit from a change in scheme
Moving into a new system under Patrick Graham, the Giants will play a majority man coverage and utilize their safeties and linebackers to blitz and dropping back into coverage. Connelly’s premier strength stopping the run, but he’s also decent in coverage against running back’s and tight end in the flat.
In 2019, he posted 1.0 sacks, 20 combine tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended, a 57.1% completion rate against, and missed zero tackles.
Having the ability to attack downhill and find gaps in opposing offensive lines is precisely what the Giants need to create havoc in the pocket. Combining his instincts, quickness, and vision are several traits head coach Joe Judge will be looking to maximize.
However, Connelly won’t be given the starting job. He will have to compete with David Mayo, who the Giants signed to a three-year deal this off-season.
In 13 starts with the Giants last year, he posted a career-high 82 combine tackles, five tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and 2.0 sacks. He supplemented the loss of Connelly well in the run game, but struggled in coverage, giving up a 65.5% completion rate against and missed 11% of his tackles.
Realistically, Mayo likely holds the advantage over Connelly due to his injury, but if the former Wisconsin standout can return to where he left off in 2019, I believe he will earn the starting job rather quickly. Missing an entire season of essential experience is tough, but he has the potential to be a solid linebacker moving forward.